Friday, August 27, 2010

More on the Meaning of the Term υπομνηματα

I just realized that many people aren't as familiar with what To Theodore says about the production of the 'secret' Gospel of Mark:

As for Mark, then, during Peter's stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own υπομνηματα and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected.[To Theodore 1.15 - 22]

Scott Brown takes υπομνηματα to mean 'notes' throughout his Mark's Other Gospel. But I think this understanding is unnecessarily vague. Justin's identification of υπομνηματα in the name of the apostles is key to make sense of the Christian use of the term. Jesus had spoken long ago in cryptic sayings and parables and now the υπομνηματα of his hearers were used to reconstruct what it was that the Lord said, what he meant.

A parallel use of υπομνηματα at the time of Alexander is worth noting. The fate of the Empire of Alexander the Great's kingdom was decided from the reading of his υπομνηματα:

Craterus had written instructions which the king had given him to carry out, but after Alexander's death the Successors decided against putting these plans into effect. For in the υπομνηματα of the king, Perdiccas found orders for the completion of Hephaestion's pyre, which called for heavy expenditure, and for all his other designs, which, numerous and grandiose, required an inordinate outlay of money. He therefore decided it was expedient to leave them unfulfilled. But not to appear to have diminished Alexander's prestige on his own authority, he brought the proposal concerning these matters before the common council of the Macedonians. The greatest and most significant projects in the υπομνηματα were the following. There was the construction of a thousand warships, larger than triremes, in Phoenicia, Syria, Cilicia and Cyprus. These were for a campaign against the Carthaginians and the other peoples living along the coast of Libya and Iberia and the area next to these along the coast as far as Sicily. (Diodorus Siculus 18.4.1 - 6)

I think there is an important parallel between the use of υπομνηματα after the death of Alexander and the death of Jesus. In each case an attempt was made to understand 'what the wishes' were of each man. So it is that Foucault emphatically rejects that the term υπομνηματα ever meant anything like 'personal notes' or 'diary' but "to make of the recollection of the fragmentary logos transmitted by teaching, listening, or reading a means to establish as adequate and as perfect a relationship of oneself to oneself as possible." (From an Interview with Michel Foucault in The Foucault Reader; Paul Rabinow, editor (New York) Pantheon, 1984, p 365)

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